Tom Zappala Haircutting Insights History

History

Once upon a time, I was a muso in Hollywood. Yes. That’s me, circa 1980 something. Back then, I was a drummer. Today, I occasionally play the piano. Also, those are 100% my natural curls in that photograph. To style them, I would apply Aveda Cherry Almond Bark Conditioner on damp hair, then follow with Paul Mitchel Spray Gel and diffuse. In hindsight, I did shampoo a bit too regularly in those days.

Apart from the frequent washing, everything else in my ritual back then is what I help clients discover today. Moisture with a bit of hold is a simple and easy way to get curly hair to look great once cut well. Do you know what else hasn’t changed since the 80s? The hair atop our heads. I know some may disagree, but the knowledge accrued and practised back then remains equally as effective today.

When I look at that photo, I notice a few things. One, my haircut is not a triangle. Two, it’s not flat on top. The frizz is in check, the haircut has a shape, and it’s flattering. How could that be? Didn’t hairdressers learn how to cut and care for curly hair only after the CGM came into existence? I’m being facetious. My curly hair journey started a long time ago.

"I decided to work in a culturally and economically diverse setting. As a result, I was exposed to a multitude of complex textures, from Asian to African."

In the culturally diverse area of Los Angeles where my career began, I intentionally chose not to work in a high-end salon that serviced wealthier women with straight, highlighted hair. I knew that working in such a salon environment would restrict the development of my haircutting skills. Those conservative salons, as popular as they were, wouldn’t have appreciated my long curly hair either! Instead, I chose a much different career path. I decided to work in a culturally and economically diverse setting. As a result, I was exposed to a multitude of complex textures, from Asian to African.

During those early years, I believed that you had to cut hair well for whoever might sit in your chair, and you needed to do so better than anyone else in the area. It was a case of sink or swim. The competition was high, and the curly hair I worked with was often cut dry. Back then, there was no such thing as a curly hair specialist. A skilled professional knew how to cut all hair types equally and exceptionally well. That was a task I took very seriously.

"Back then, there was no such thing as a curly hair specialist. A skilled professional knew how to cut all hair types equally and exceptionally well."

Many decades and a few countries later, a reliable, well-honed multicultural skill set is viewed as unique and highly sought after. I find this strange, but also it makes a lot of sense when considering where my career current resides. While I understand the struggles of those who grew up in a predominately Anglo-Australian suburb or came of age amidst the flat-iron era, I am grateful that professionally I did not. Success seems to indicate that clients appreciate my history too.

Reflecting on my earliest years of cutting curly hair and learning how to manage my own, I am grateful to all those initial clients. They were patient with me and provided essential feedback that helped shape the foundation of this career. They understood that I strived to do my job well and make them happy. That is what it takes to be great: determination, discipline, and professional intentions that place client contentment above all else. Every week in the studio, that focus remains unchanged.

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